TRN Time Machine Podcast: Summer Memories

The TRN Time Machine podcast is back! As a way to honor Jason’s podcasting legacy, we’re re-releasing classic episodes from the original Retro Network Podcast, as well as classic episodes from the early days of the Time Machine podcast. In addition, we’ll be releasing previously restricted episodes of Grocery Stories, Outtakes, and the critically acclaimed TRN After Hours podcast that until now have only been available to Patreon subscribers.

The Patreon-only library has almost 100 episodes that until now have only been heard by a few people. They are packed with so much Jason goodness that we can’t keep these episodes locked away any longer. While Jason may no longer be with us in person, he is still with us in spirit, and releasing these episodes will give everyone a chance to hear more stories and memories from Jason and help keep his memory alive.

If you’ve never done so, be sure to subscribe to the TRN Time Machine podcast in your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode.

Here is the first release of this new round of Time Machine episodes, featuring a classing from the very early days where Jason and myself rehash old summer memories. Enjoy!

Cookin’ Cheap

Cookin' Cheap

From the late ’80s through the early ’90s, one of my daily rituals in the summertime was to go inside during the hot part of the day and veg out in front of the television and cool off for an hour or two. Back then, I didn’t have many television channels, so there wasn’t much channel surfing to be done. I could watch soap operas on the networks, or watch whatever was on the local PBS station, and boy was I lucky with what my local PBS station, Blue Ridge Public Television, was showing every afternoon.

Blue Ridge Television offered up a block of cooking shows for two hours, followed by Bob Ross. While I didn’t care much for the Julia Child cooking show that started the block, it was followed by Justin Wilson whom I enjoyed, then Yan Can Cook which was also fun, but the last cooking show in that block was my favorite, and one I still watch episodes of today via YouTube, and that show was Cookin’ Cheap. No matter what else was going on in my world on those summer days, I was intent on being inside from 1:30 to 2:00 PM to catch the show.

Cookin’ Cheap was a popular comedy cooking show that was produced from 1980-2002. For most of its run, it was hosted by Laban Johnson and Larry Bly who prepared recipes and shared a lot of laughs. The show was recorded straight through with no stops and no rehearsals so if the guys dropped or burned it, we the viewers got to see it.

In 1980, Laban Johnson, who was already an established cook on local TV came up with an idea for his own television show. He was a funny guy, but fortunately, he realized that much of his humor came from playing off of someone else, so he decided to invite a friend, Larry Bly, on to the show as his sidekick. Larry’s quick wit was already well known in the area, thanks to his radio and TV on-air shenanigans, as he was a local radio DJ.

Laban Johnson (left) and Larry Bly (right) on the set of Cookin’ Cheap in the Blue Ridge Public Television studio in Roanoke VA.

After deciding that the show could work as a comedy cooking show using mostly viewer recipes, it was decided to pitch the show to a local TV station. Shortly after that, a “pilot” was shot, shown to some local potential sponsors, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What made the show great wasn’t the food. The recipes come from viewers, the ingredients from the freezer, cans, and cardboard boxes. In the poor studio light, the dishes, casseroles, meatballs, bean salads, and dips most times ended up looking like glop.

And it wasn’t the culinary skills either. The hosts were amateurs. They struggled to open zip-lock bags and fumble in their oven mitts the way you or I would. Their kitchen would get messy and sometimes dangerous, as they juggled hot trays and employed questionable knife skills while chopping. They puzzled over pronunciations, and spent a lot of time on boring prep work, because, as Larry would confess, if they didn’t, the show would be a lot shorter.

The way that they incorporated more comedy into the show than technique made it feel like they were your neighbors instead of professional cooking show hosts. What I loved most is that it wasn’t just more of that fake Southern thing, which is all around us these days, as Laban and Larry were the real deal. They were both from Roanoke VA where the show was filmed, and just 2 hours up the road from where I lived.

While the show was filmed in Roanoke VA to air on the local Blue Ridge Public Television station, it was so popular that it was picked up and syndicated by other PBS affiliates all around the country. It was the only original program of Blue Ridge Public Television that got syndicated, showing just how good this show was.

More than any other cooking show I’ve seen in my life, Cookin’ Cheap made you feel like you could truly replicate what they were doing in your own kitchen. My mom was a big fan of the show as well, and we would watch it together every afternoon. And we would end up trying a lot of the recipes we saw them cook on the show. And that might be the biggest reason I’m so fond of this show. We would attempt those recipes, and others, together. Both of us in the kitchen at the same time, each creating a dish that we would sit down and share for dinner. Without even acknowledging that we were copying the format we had learned from watching Cookin’ Cheap, we were performing our own version a couple of nights each week.

Laban Johnson passed away suddenly in 1999. Larry Bly tried to keep the show going, bringing in one of Laban’s friends to replace him, but the chemistry wasn’t there, and the experiment only lasted one season and then the show was canceled. It was the end of an era for a show that helped instill in me a love for cooking and helped to create so many great memories of cooking with my mom. If Retro Ramblings had a Hall of Fame, Laban Johnson and Larry Bly would be first-ballot entries for that fact alone.

I’m including this post as part of the Retro Ramblings Summer Vacation ’24 because it was a part of many of the summers of my youth. I wanted to feature one of their videos, and what better one to pick to go along with the summer vacation theme than this episode where they are preparing a couple of cook-out dishes. Check it out and see what you think.

Re-Watching Backdraft (1991)

When Backdraft originally debuted back in 1991, I desperately wanted to see it. As I’ve explained before though, my parents weren’t the movie theater type. And as I was only 13 at the time of its release, I wasn’t going to be going by myself. The closest I got to it was having to hear my brother talk about how great it was after he and his friends saw it. But a year later, it was on HBO and other channels like it all the time so I got to see it finally thanks to the cable descrambler we had. My brother and I probably watched in a dozen time that summer it debuted on PPV and HBO.

It’s about a group of Chicago firefighters on the trail of a serial arsonist who is targeting various victims who are contractors who are connected to each other and a high-ranking city official.

Stephen McCaffrey (Russell) is the Lueinent of Engine Company 17, and his younger brother Brian (Baldwin) is a probationary fireman assigned to the company after graduation from the academy.  The two brothers are the sons of a legendary Chicago firefighter who lost his life battling a blaze while young Brian watched on.  As the movie reveals, the two brothers have never been close, and are at odds with each other more than on the same page.

After several firehouses are shut down due to budget cuts, the arsonist starts taking out the decision-makers behind those cuts by setting deadly “backdraft’ fires to murder them.  Company 17 finds itself as the company that ends up fighting those fires, while Inspector Donald Rimdale (DeNiro) is the one tasked with finding the arsonist behind the attacks.  It all climaxes at a large fire at a chemical plant where the killer is revealed and the McCaffrey brothers must stop him once and for all.  All while battling the huge blaze.

Growing up in the ’80s with a Dad who was the local fire department chief, I was always fascinated by firemen and firefighting in general.  Now while I was never a fireman myself, I do know more about it than most others who were not.  And what you see in Backdraft is pretty close to how things are.  The camaraderie displayed between the firemen in the film feels real and on point.  And the firefighting sequences are top-notch.  The arson investigation is pretty straightforward, but you can’t really guess who is behind it until near the end of the film when everything comes together.  The writers did a pretty good job though of trying to lead you to one conclusion of who the killer is before revealing the true villain.  

Backdraft was a blockbuster in the truest sense of the word, and everything about the movie was well executed.  The story arc of Kurt Russell’s Stephen McCaffrey may be the best thing about the film.  From being the overprotective brother to being the ultimate badass fireman, right through to the final confrontation and climax, Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey was a story well told. Kurt Russell was more than the commander of Engine Company 17…he also carried a commanding presence in his performance.

Backdraft was a blockbuster in its time for a reason and is still a yearly summer re-watch for me even now.  It was a “big” movie with a big cast who were hitting on all cylinders at the time, and it lived up to the hype with its special effects and storytelling.  There’s not much more that you could ask from a movie like this. 

4.0 out of 5.0 stars

Garfield in Paradise

Garfield in Paradise is a half-hour animated special that debuted in 1986. It was the fifth animated Garfield special and ran as a special presentation in primetime in the summers for a few years. I would scour the latest TV Guide every week in the summer looking for an air date until it would finally show up. It was appointment television for me every year. Why I never made a VHS recording of it I have no idea.

Now for me, no other Garfield special tops the Christmas one, but Garfield in Paradise was a close second for a very long time. It may still hold that spot. I’d have to sit and think on it for a bit to confirm that though. But since we are now in the heart of summer, I thought it would be a great time to watch it again. Here it is in all its glory for you to enjoy. But if you’d rather watch it on some large screen, I believe it’s available on Pluto TV.

Welcome to Retro Ramblings Summer Vacation 2024

Now that we have warm weather and sunny skies throughout most of the country on a regular basis, it’s time to declare it officially summer! And with that proclamation, I’m celebrating that fact here at Retro Ramblings by sharing a slew of summer-themed nostalgia from now through August 31.

Throughout the summer you’ll find plenty of retro summer-themed posts. Plenty of summer memories to be shared, so if you haven’t done so yet, be sure to bookmark or add Retro Rambling to your favorite RSS reader so you don’t miss any of the fun.

If you do happen to miss something, you can just click on the summer vacation image at the top of the sidebar to see all of the summer-themed posts.